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CEA Forum, v45 n2 p26-53 Sum-Fall 2016

In theorizing how we should pedagogically approach African American literature, especially in courses for undergraduates, I argue that we have to move away from questions of what was or even what is African American literature and, instead, find ways to teach African American literature in both its historical contexts--artistic and political--and its contemporary resonances. We can embrace the ways the field and each piece of literature simultaneously was and is. Importantly, we can think about what both African American literature and the course on this literature need to be in ways that focus on past, present, and future. For students, African American literature can be a living voice in a broader trajectory of civil and social death, de jure and de facto discrimination, and the struggle for social justice. Our current moment demands it, and the persistence of the Black Lives Matter movement--from its origins in the wake of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown's deaths into the early stages of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns' warrants, or perhaps even necessitates, a pedagogy that positions African American literature courses as spaces on campuses where the vulnerabilities of and violent acts against black lives can be discussed. In this paper, I am particularly interested in examining both the praxis of teaching African American literature as part of a cultural and civic literacy program for our students and then in examining the larger stakes of our moment, both for racism in the United States and the role of literature courses of programs.

Descriptors: African American Literature, African Americans, Social Justice, Racial Bias, Consciousness Raising, Civics, Cultural Awareness, United States History, African American History, Teaching Methods, Higher Education, Undergraduate Study, Reading Material Selection, Novels, Democracy, Role of Education, Praxis

College English Association. Web site:

Autor: Gross, Jeffrey


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